Feeling down? You're not alone. According to Everyday Health, about 20 percent of Americans experience the winter blues. Falling temperatures, shorter days, and holiday stress are most likely the culprits. While not as serious as seasonal affective disorder (a clinically diagnosed form of depression that is triggered every fall and winter), these blues are still a drag. They can lead to weight gain, fatigue, irritability, and isolation. But the good news is that, with a few simple lifestyle changes, you can turn your outlook from blue to rosy. Here are a few ways to help you lift your spirits this season:
Experts at the National Institutes of Health say that there is something about less natural sunlight and darkening days that can leave us down in the dumps. To offset the effects of shorter, gloomier days, seek out more light. Get outdoors when you can, and enjoy the natural sunlight as much as possible, especially early in the day.
With the colder temperatures and shorter days, it can be hard to feel motivated to get outside or go to the gym, but regular exercise can improve your mood. WebMD suggests that simply dancing to the radio at home for 15 to 20 minutes or buttoning up and going for a brisk walk may help lift your spirits as increasing your heart rate releases mood-boosting serotonin. Just remember to talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
It's not uncommon for people to crave sweets and carbohydrates in the cold weather, but those types of comfort foods can wreak havoc on your mood by turning your blood sugar levels into a roller coaster ride. Instead of chips and cookies, opt for healthy meals and snacks. Healthy, well-balanced meals will not only keep your blood sugar on an even keel, but they will also boost your immune system and energy levels, helping you fight colds and fatigue. If you need a snack, try low-fat yogurt, nuts, fruits, or vegetables.
Drinking to excess can make your bad mood worse and amplify any negative emotions, reports Healthline.com. Try to limit your alcohol consumption by setting some boundaries. For example, don't keep alcohol in your house, and if you're attending a party, limit yourself to one or two drinks.
Depression may cause sleep problems such as insomnia, and conversely, trouble sleeping can also contribute to depressive disorders. If you're experiencing the winter blues, getting enough sleep may help improve your mood. Everyday Health recommends maintaining a regular schedule, which can help reduce grumpiness and fatigue. Additionally, while it may be tempting to stay in bed on a cold winter morning, establishing a routine that involves getting up early each day ensures that you are exposed to light at the same time every day.
Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to an increased risk for a whole host of health issues including osteoporosis, cancer, and depression. As sun exposure is one of the best sources of vitamin D, it's not surprising that shorter winter days and the increased use of sunscreen (which blocks vitamin D-producing UVB rays) may lead to lower levels of this essential vitamin. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that nearly 25 percent of Americans have insufficient levels of vitamin D.
Make sure to include foods high in vitamin D (or fortified with it) in your diet. If you feel you may be deficient in this vitamin, ask your doctor if a supplement is appropriate for you. The recommended daily allowance for vitamin D is 600 international units (IUs) for people under 70 and 800 IUs for those 70 and over. Your doctor may prescribe a higher amount if a deficiency is noted.
By making some simple lifestyle changes, you may be able to ease your winter blues. However, if lifestyle changes are not relieving your symptoms or if your depressed mood worsens or lasts for several weeks, talk with your doctor.
National Institute of Health, Beat the Winter Blues
Healthline.com, How to Deal with Stress and Depression During the Holidays
National Sleep Foundation, Depression and Sleep
Everyday Health, Guide to Endorphins
Everyday Health, Your Best Weapon Against Winter Blues
WebMD, Vitamin D Deficiency
Medcinenet.com, Vitamin D Deficiency
CDC, Vitamin D Status
These articles are not a substitute for medical advice, and are not intended to treat or cure any disease. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary. Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise, or medication regime.